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    The ten trials of Abraham

    The binding of Isaac, by A Losenko

    The Akedah (Binding of Isaac) is the last and greatest of the ten trials which Abraham underwent.

    Tradition is certain (Pir’kei Avot 5:4) that there were ten trials. Perhaps the number ten is a symbolic round figure, easy to remember.

    The sages took the number more literally though they have various versions as to what the ten actually were; the Midrash has several lists whilst Maimonides has another.

    Why the ambivalence?

    Because none of the first nine is specifically called a trial in the pages of Scripture and only the Akedah is specifically described as such in the Torah (Gen. 22).

    According to Samson Raphael Hirsch the common feature lies in the word nissayon, a trial, which he says conveys the sense of movement: a trial is a stage in one’s progress towards a higher position.

    In the case of Abraham, all the trials indicate moral progress towards becoming The Friend of God.

    The sages in Pir’kei Avot explain that the trials prove Abraham’s love for God: when God asks increasingly difficult things of him, Abraham responds out of love and loyalty.

    As Dr Meir Tamari writes in his series, “Spiritual and Ethical Issues in the Bereshit Stories”, “There is no hint of any tortured discussion by Avraham, or of the inner conflict envisages by Kierkegaard and other non-Jewish philosophers or secular Jewish scholars, between morality and God’s command”.

    Kierkegaard can ask why God asks Abraham for the apparently ethically impossible; Dr. Tamari responds that whatever God commands is by definition (since God is the origin of morality and ethics) moral and ethical, so there is and can be no conflict.

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